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Trade Deficit in Trump’s Third Year Is 14% Higher Than When He Took Office, Not Quickly Eliminated as He Promised as a Candidate

Drop of $28 Billion in U.S. Goods and Services Deficit in 2019 Relative to 2018 Explained by $44 Billion Improvement in U.S. Energy Trade Balance

Contrary to candidate Donald Trump’s pledge he would quickly end the U.S. trade deficit, today’s release of annual 2019 trade data show the overall U.S. goods and services deficit in Trump’s third year in office is 14% ($77 billion) larger than the deficit in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration. (Figures are inflation-adjusted* In nominal terms, the overall 2019 goods and services deficit 22% ($109 billion) larger than in 2016.)

Given the trade deficit has increased during Trump’s presidency, today the administration is spotlighting the drop in the 2019 deficit relative to the deficit in 2018, but:

  • A $36 billion decline in U.S. oil imports and an $8 billion increase in oil and gas exports – a $44 billion improvement in the U.S. energy trade balance relative to 2018 – entirely explains the overall $43 billion decline in the U.S. goods trade deficit between 2018 and 2019. The improvement in the energy trade balance also is considerably larger than the decline in the overall U.S. goods and service deficit of $27 billion or 4% – from $646 billion in 2018 to $619 billion in 2019. The energy trade balance shift is not a sustainable way to decrease the U.S.-world trade deficit and poses serious climate change threats.
  • The 2019 non-energy goods trade deficit is up $1 billion relative to 2018 and up 17% ($122 billion) relative to the end of the Obama administration.
  • The 2019 manufacturing trade deficit in Trump’s third year is up 14% ($130 billion) relative to 2016, the last year of the Obama administration. Because these are the inflation adjusted terms, so they represent the growth in the deficit in constant December 2019 dollars.
  • The sizeable 2019 decline ($82 billion) in the goods trade deficit with China relative to 2018 was countered by a $39 billion increase in the goods trade deficit with the rest of the world. (The China goods deficit dropped from $432 billion in 2018 to $350 billion in 2019 while the rest of the world goods trade deficit increased from $469 billion in 2018 to $508 billion in 2019.) Economists note that such “trade diversion” is driven by imbalances in currency values: While tariffs on Chinese goods may promote a decline in Chinese imports to the United States, deficits with the rest of the world increase. This is likely to continue while the U.S. dollar remains unsustainably high in value, in part because countries such as China hold massive dollar reserves, while other countries’ currencies remain undervalued. Note: The U.S. goods trade deficit with China in 2018 was the largest ever recorded, at $432 billion, up from $396 billion in 2017. This compares to $373 billion in 2016, Obama’s last year.

“Donald Trump has not delivered on the trade promises so central to his 2016 victory in Midwest states: The U.S. trade deficit is up significantly during Trump’s presidency, U.S. job outsourcing has continued and the manufacturing sector’s four-year employment boom that started two years before he took office flatlined in 2019,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The U.S. goods trade deficit with North American Free Trade Agreement partners Mexico and Canada increased to $243 billion in 2019 – up 31% and $58 billion since the start of the Trump administration. As Trump stonewalled congressional Democrats for a year before reopening and rewriting the revised NAFTA that he signed in 2018 to remove giveaways to Big Pharma and strengthen anti-outsourcing terms, the deficit grew 10% ($23 billion) between 2018 and 2019.

*Data Note: Trade data is sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau. We present deficit figures adjusted for inflation to the base month of December 2019 and expressed the data in constant dollars so the figures represent actual changes in the trade balances. We also offer the “nominal” figure, which is the number you will see in the U.S. Census Bureau data for figures earlier than 2019. Some economists view the nominal data as more accurately reflecting the overvalued U.S. dollar. “Manufacturing” is defined by BEA’s scope for manufacturing trade flows.  

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